FAIRFAX, VA —Not all consumerism is bad. Consumerism is appropriate
in the marketplace. It is good to be careful consumers, to exercise
the freedom to choose within our budgets and personal tastes, and to
protect ourselves from fraudulent or predatory businesses.
becomes problematic, however, when we let it permeate the rest of our
lives, for example, our approaches to government, Church, and even
Consumerism corrupts government. Since the 1960s, citizens and politicians
alike increasingly view government as a buffet of goods and services.
Policy debates devolve into crass arguments about which politician
can provide the greatest value for the least taxes. Appeals to the
virtues of freedom and self-reliance are lost; civic duty becomes irrelevant.
The healthcare debate is an example of the triumph of consumerism over
virtue. The consumer-oriented government, destined to grow without
limits, is thereby doomed to become oppressive. The irony is that consumer-oriented
citizens will eventually despise the government they created.
Consumerism is even more poisonous for the Church and explains the
exodus. Juila Duin, religion editor for The Washington Times, details
the hemorrhage of membership in her engaging book, Quitting
Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to do about it. The modern church,
in keeping with the times, uses marketing methods to recruit new members.
Membership equals money. Senior clergy run the church on a corporate
model, offering more and more services, novelties, and conveniences.
For example, the Diocese of Arlington just set up a program where parishioners
can auto-pay donations by credit card or bank transfer without the
inconvenience of attending church services. The members of the laity
become customers, rewarding the clergy-managers depending on perceived
value. The members of the laity, behaving like prudent consumers, shop
for a better value — or they quit church altogether.
Some clergy argue that we need to attract the unchurched with goods
and services, then steer them toward God. In business, that marketing
strategy is called bait-and-switch, a tactic despised by consumers
and doomed to failure. Such tactics demean religion. If we approach
religion as consumers, we will eventually be disappointed in the goods
and services. Most likely, we will join the ranks of the millions of
consumer-oriented Christians who stop going to church.
It is ironic that politicians and clergy attack consumerism in the
marketplace, while at the same time they embrace consumerism as their
mode of operation.
The saddest aspect of consumerism is its effect on families. If spouses
treat one another as employees or customers, or as sources of goods
and services, then marriages will be in deep trouble. Consumer-oriented
parents manage their children. Some parents boss their children like
little employees who are usually wrong. Other parents kowtow to their
children, the little customers who are always right. Eventually, parents
become disappointed in their children and the children become disappointed
in their parents.
Consumer-oriented families have no staying power. These family members
like the hearth-and-home perks: Thanksgiving dinner and warm apple
pie, companionship and sentimentality. However, when a family member
becomes damaged goods — stricken with dementia, for example — the
consumer’s impulse is to send the damaged goods back or at least
get the damaged goods out of sight. The healthy family members may
decide that the stricken member’s life is not worth living —
the goods and services consumed are not worth the costs. They calculate
that the cost of being a family exceeds the benefits, and the consumer-oriented
family falls apart.
We need to work hard to reverse this disturbing trend so that consumerism
does not ruin our love of country, our faith, or our families. We need
to keep consumerism where it belongs — only in the marketplace.
Family Matters archives
Copyright by Daniel Graham and www.fgfbooks.com, the website of the
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use
this column if the copyright information is included.
Daniel Graham has provided training and consulting services for 25
years to corporations and government agencies throughout North America
and Europe. He has trained more than 70,000 engineers, scientists,
and business professionals to write better documents faster. His articles
on law, engineering, risk management, Catholic issues, and family topics
have been published in diverse journals. He is an award-winning novelist.
Daniel Graham earned a Masters in Business Administration from the
University of Alabama and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature
from The College of William and Mary. For 10 years, he served as an
officer in the United States Army with assignments in tactical and
strategic intelligence. When serving as the Chief Executive Officer
of High Frontier, Inc., he founded the Journal
of Practical Applications in Space. He is the father of seven children.
See a complete biographical sketch.
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